Thursday, May 20, 2010

Anti-terrorism Commercial

This video was taken from Several weeks ago when I was jogging on the treadmill (unbelievable, I know), I saw this commercial, and I had no idea what to think. The commercial is very clear about who suffers from terrorism, but the fact that a commercial discouraging terrorism was broadcast says a lot. Technically, the brand of Islamism that the United States is dealing with today was born in Egypt with Sayyid Qutb, a very influential writer. His ideas have influenced many Islamist groups, including Zawahiri's al-Jihad (aka Egyptian Islamic Jihad) and Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda. These two groups merged in 2001.

My brain must have fallen asleep. All that I have to do is look around me: poverty, unemployment, disenfranchisement, and oppression. Also, there is a large group of unmarried men because of the marriage crisis, Of course certain sectors of the population are susceptible to radical ideologies, so it's logical that Egypt is waging a public campaign against terrorism in addition to suppressing Islamists. I wonder what will happen when Mubarak dies.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Sexual Harassment

This post is long overdue, and what happened this morning prompted me to finally sit down and write this. It's a five minute walk to Munch & Bagel, a little restaurant owned by a wonderful Egyptian-Polish couple that serves delicious, American-style breakfast food such as homemade bagels, Belgian waffles, muffins, and pancakes in addition to salads and sandwiches for lunch. The food is relatively inexpensive and they don't charge taxes. Also, the staff wears gloves, and let me tell you, this is a big deal because most Egyptians don't wash their hands after going to the bathroom. Overall, I don't think that they realize that harmful bacteria can be transmitted to what they touch if they don't wash their hands. Case in point, there is an ongoing problem with Tabasco, one of the food outlets on campus. Many students have gotten food poisoning from there, and at first, the university released a statement that mentioned implementing certain practices such as hand washing--as if this wasn't the norm before. It gets worse. The food poisoning problem has persisted, so Tabasco's kitchen is being disinfected. Two days ago, I was talking with my professor, an articulate, Egyptian woman, about this, and when I suggsted that the problem was probably as simple as a lack of hand washing, her response was, "Really? That can cause food poisoning?"

Anyway, this post was supposed to be about sexual harassment. On the way to Munch & Bagel, I thought that I was doing pretty well. I was only mildly annoyed by the construction worker who was watching me from a balcony. I just put on an angry face and looked straight ahead. I had almost made it to the restaurant without being bothered when I heard a man say, "Hello!" My skills at ignoring men are so good that I didn't even look. Try to understand, I'm not being rude by ignoring the men because they're not being friendly. They're trying to get my attention--it's harassment, and I hate them all for it. Anyway, I just sighed and kept walking while staring straight ahead. Then he said, "Hey!" I felt my blood begin to boil, and thought, "Why can't they just leave me alone? If he says one more thing, I'm going to scream at him to shut the fuck up." Believe me--I've been dying to freak out and cuss out each and everyone one of the men that bothers me. For a third time, he said more loudly and insistently, "HELLO!" At this point, I was livid, and when I turned to finally give him a piece of my mind, I realized that it was Will, a graduate student at AUC.

We laughed and then talked about how terrible the sexual harassment is here. If the harassment is bad enough for me to try to ignore any and every male voice that I hear, believe me, it's bad. He mentioned that he had spoken with his friend, a hijabi, about why she wears it. She said that it wasn't for religious reasons, it was so that men would bother her less. You, as the reader, should be feeling disgusted right about now.

I never had a huge problem with harassment until Drew went to Oman. Prior to then, I always wandered around Zamalek with him, so I didn't know what it was like to walk around without a guy. Between the men who line the sides of the street, such as pedestrians, parking attendants, bawabs (or doormen), policemen, and guards, and the men in passing cars, an unaccompanied girl can't walk anywhere without being harassed. It goes without saying that she will be intensely ogled in addition to hearing kissing, hissing, psst-ing, and barking noises. Also, it is extremely likely that she will hear comments like Yaa anisa (Hey miss), Yaa muuza (Hey banana), and 'Ishta (Cream, which implies sweet).

Several weeks ago, I was walking back from Grandpa's, a little convenience store, and a guy actually stopped his car in the middle of the road to say, "Hey, what you think about me and you in future somewhere far away together?" I burst out laughing. It was such a pathetic attempt. The taxi drivers have been amusing too. The few times that I've taken one by myself, they ask about my marital status. In fact, I got my first marriage proposal in a taxi. Romantic, huh? It's not all fun and games though. Several girls have been the victims of physical sexual harassment--hair, derrières, and breasts.

I hate being asked for my name more than anything. When I took the train to Alexandria a few weekends ago, one man was extremely obnoxious. I was trying to board the train, and he tried to block my way and demanded, "What is your name?" When I sneered at him and went around him, he was taken aback--how dare I ignore him. I had the same problem with the guards outside the Alexandria National Museum. Over the weekend I was in the Northeastern Cemetery for a field trip. A boy around the age of 10 demanded, "What is your name?" It was shocking and very saddening. I just ignored him. How do I explain to a child that asking a foreign girl for her name comes off as harassment?

In all honesty, many Egyptian men don't harass women. I have to give credit to all of the men who ignore me. I've noticed that some men make an effort to move aside and give me more space to walk past them. When I walk with Drew, men walking in the other direction sometimes change their course so that they pass us on Drew's side instead of on mine. These are the respectful men. There aren't enough of them.

For more information, check out these links.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Spring Break - Istanbul 3 & 4

I accidentally combined two separate days in an earlier post, so I'm correcting that now. On the third day in Istanbul, I went to the Asian side of the city, not the second day. Each morning in Istanbul, Drew and I ate breakfast while we looked out at the Marmara Sea. The hostel's version of French toast was interesting. It was fried bread with honey, but I liked it. Anyway, on the third morning, I saw a really familiar face that I couldn't quite place. The guy finally came up to me and said hello. It was Frank from the American University in Cairo, and he just happened to be at the same hostel on the same day!

Today I took a ferry to the Asian side of the city. It was clearly less touristy than the rest of Istanbul, and I liked that. I climbed a hill overlooking the water and made my way down the other side of it through a nice park. The park appeared to have little playgrounds, but upon closer inspection, I realized that they were actually little gyms. After returning to the European side of the city, Drew decided to buy some kestane, or roasted chestnuts. The hull turns dark brown, and it looks like it's dipped in chocolate, and that's why Drew ate the hull. It turns out that he didn't like them (even without the hull), but I did.

Afterwards, we went back to the Grand Bazaar, and I finally bought some souvenirs. I got a little something for everyone at the WRC and a beautiful mug and bowl for myself. I really wanted to buy a tunic, but it was too expensive. That evening Drew and I played more drunken chess, and I was still unable to redeem myself, but I certainly did better than before. The next morning we went to the Hagia Sofia, and it was packed. I didn't really enjoy it. It was originally a cathedral, then a mosque, and now a museum. The mosaics were beautiful, but I felt that this was a waste of money like Topkapi Palace.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Spring Break - Istanbul 2

Today I went to the Basilica Cistern, the Blue Mosque, and Galata Tower. The cistern was worth every penny, or lira. It's literally this sixth-century structure beneath the streets of Istanbul supported by endless rows of columns. I have no idea how it's still standing. Kudos to Roman architecture. There's only a few feet of water in the cistern, but it covers a large area, and someone put fish in the water. It reminded me of a cave with the dim, red lights; the sound of water dripping; and the dampness.

The Blue Mosque was beautiful and free. For the record, there is a Blue Mosque in Cairo, the Mosque of Aqsunqur. Take my word for it and don't go to the one in Cairo. You'll be disappointed; although, the minbar is lovely. The view from Galata Tower was nice, but it's nothing special. It was also very crowded. I think that I enjoyed the walk over the Golden Horn more than actually going up in the tower. (This is still on the European side.) I bought some freshly squeezed orange juice for 1 lira, and when I say freshly squeezed, I mean that they squeeze the juice out of an orange in front of you--just like they do in Cairo.

Later on, I went to the Grand Bazaar to scope out prices and potential gifts. Istanbul's bazaar is much nicer than the Khan El Khalili. It's inside with a floor instead of outside with dirt and trash. However, everything is more expensive in Istanbul. That evening I demanded a rematch in chess. I was determined to redeem myself. Well, I lost miserably several times. Many times. My hopes and dreams (and my ego) were crushed. For whatever reason, it later turned into drunken chess, which is an interesting combination.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Spring Break - Istanbul 1

Between April 3rd and 4th, I spent about 24 hours traveling on trains. On the Bosphorus Express, my sleeping compartment was next to one occupied by two very large, foul-smelling, intoxicated Turks. It was highly entertaining--at first. I watched one of them try and fail to fit a large empty liquor bottle out a small window. I could hear them sing and slur along to the same three folksy songs. Then, they passed out and started snoring, which was annoying, but I eventually fell asleep. At Kapikule, or the Bulgarian-Turkish border, we physically left the train to get our passports stamped. The men were not only still inebriated, but also belligerently so. They got into a heated argument with the man stamping passports and the border police. For whatever reason, they actually let them back on the train without the proper papers and they started all over again with the drinking and loud music--mind you, this is at 3:00am.The train was more or less on time, so I was in a rush to get ready before the train reached its destination. Honestly, I was banking on the train being at least an hour late. Drew and I made it to the hostel several hours before we could actually check in, so we dropped off our bags and walked; even though, all we really wanted to do was shower and rest. After four hours of meandering, we made it back to the hostel, cleaned up, and if I'm remembering correctly, we played chess in the hostel's restaurant. We stopped after I lost a couple of times. Yes, I actually lost at chess. It's a tragedy, I tell you.In the afternoon, we went to Topkapi Palace. Don't waste your money on this place. Instead, buy a pretzel and walk around the parks right outside of Topkapi. They're filled with tulips, and it doesn't cost you a thing to enjoy them. Unlike Cairo, Istanbul has plenty of public parks. If there was a nice public park in Cairo, it would be full of trash, beggars, and cat shit in less than a day. It's a shame.

Spring Break - Brasov

It was a miracle that the train only arrived forty minutes late in Brasov. All of the other trains that I took arrived at least an hour late to their destinations. It was dreary outside, but I didn't mind too much because I took a taxi to the hostel. My map wasn't very good, so we got lost on some very narrow cobblestone streets, but that was no big deal because I was distracted by the misty mountains in the distance. The first two hostels that I stayed at were small and very nicely furnished, but this hostel was a typical youth hostel with several floors and lots of young adults. The hostel actually gave me vouchers for a free beer each night, but Drew caught a cold, so we just got water instead. After the rain cleared up in the afternoon, I walked around Old Brasov and went to the Black and White Towers, the Black Church, the city walls, and the main square. I also took a cable car up Tampa Mountain, which overlooks the city.

Just so you know, I've been listening to various French artists while I type: Coeur de Pirate, Jena Lee, and Christophe Maé. Songs make learning vocabulary so much easier.

Anyway, the following day I went to Peles Castle and then Bran Castle with a small group consiting of Drew and I, a German, an Australian, and our Romanian driver, who was fluent in English, German, and Romanian. The German man was the most eccentric character that I've ever met, and this blog wouldn't be complete without him. He revealed that he had gone to jail because his wife accused him of sexually assaulting their daughter. Afterwards, he worked with scrap metal in Romania. He found a lot of antique weapons, and he learned how to make replicas. This is how he made a living. He was from East Germany, and as we drove to the castles, he commented "Oh, the Communist factories--see how they crumble!" He mentioned that Communism destroyed a Czech company that made good shoes, which he somehow found and bought in Africa years later. He made a few insulting comments about Romanians and how they work as street vendors and perform menial tasks in Germany to make a living. He also kept pointing out Dacias, old Romanian cars. Somehow the topic of gypsies came up, and he seemed very interested. When we drove by their homes, our driver said "Look--a gypsy child" as if the kid was an attraction in the zoo. The German described Americans as extremely friendly and helpful as a result of his visit to the States. It was nice to hear that. Anyway, he must have been at least 65, and on three occasions he took off running, yes, running! First, he ran to relieve himself; then, he ran to buy a sandwich; finally, he ran to relocate two mating toads to a safe area. That about covers our German acquaintance.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Spring Break - Budapest 3

It was rainy on our last day in Budapest, but it cleared up later. I wanted to take a tour of Parliament, but all of the tours were sold out for the entire day, so that didn't happen. Next time, Insha'Allah. I went to St. Stephen's Basilica and went up to the cupola. I wasn't a fan of the never-ending spiral staircase, but the view was completely worth it. B3da keda, I walked along Andrássy út again. Since I couldn't get the student rate at the House of Terror, I skipped it and walked around District V. some more. That evening we took the tram back to Keleti Station to take the train to Brasov.

Spring Break - Budapest 2

The next morning we had breakfast, which consisted of tea, coffee, milk, orange juice, pepperoni, salami, cherry tomatoes, cucumber slices, and a couple different kinds of cheese. It was interesting, but I liked it. Afterwards, I strolled down Andrássy út to Heroes Square, City Park, and Széchenyi Baths, and I had lunch on the lawn in front of the baths. It was so nice to lie in the grass. For the record, I actually looked up whether or not I should use the word "lay" or "lie." It's somewhat complicated. It was also nice to see people walking their dogs. I somewhat creepily tried to catch up to a woman who was walking a German shepherd puppy so that I could pet him, but it didn't work out. The best thing that I saw in the park was a man laying in the grass beside his lover with his head on her chest. Seriously, it was amazing to see some love and affection after being in Cairo for so long.

Next, I walked towards the National Museum because Drew was looking for an antique map to buy for his parents. Unfortunately, all of the maps in the bookstores around the museum were way too expensive, so he didn't get one. The hostel owner had recommended checking out District V. behind Parliament, so I explored that and scoped out prices and times for boat rides on the Danube. After five hours of walking around Budapest, I felt myself readjusting to crosswalks, traffic signals, police cars, and ambulances i.e. normalcy.

There was a little restaurant below the hostel, so I grabbed some gyros and baklava there and relaxed before heading back out for the boat ride. I forgot to take Drew's walking pace into account, and we ended up running along the Danube to catch the boat, but it all worked out in the end. The boat ride was just okay. I was more entertained by the alternating descriptions of various buildings along the river in English and German. For dinner, I went to this swanky pub called Kiado Kocsma. I really liked it! Plus, I got to eat and drink in the loft. Drew learned that a liter of beer comes in a huge mug, if you can even call it that.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Spring Break - Budapest 1

Budapest was absolutely incredible! I loved it! This is where I stayed. For the second time, I ended up in a beautiful hostel; the room was massive and had a nice view of Saint Istvan Street. Here's a quick run-down of what I did. The first day I walked across the Danube to the Buda side of the city. I went up to the Fisherman's Bastion and Matthias Church. The church was under construction, so we didn't go inside, but the view was incredible. Random note, but there was a Marzipan Museum in that area too.

Next we walked to the Royal Palace, and on the way there, I played hopscotch with Drew because someone had drawn a court on the pavement. An elderly woman walked by and laughed kindly at him because he was doing it wrong. We meandered around the palace and enjoyed the view before we tackled Gellert Hill. It just wasn't meant to be because we kept walking into dead ends trying to get down from the palace's hill, but we were finally successful. Keep in mind that Cairo is very flat, so hiking up that hill was not easy for me; although, I shouldn't complain because one group of AUC students climbed Mount Kilimanjaro over spring break. If that doesn't impress you, I know a few guys that went to Georgia and Kurdistan.

In addition to the panoramic view and the snogging couples on top of Gellert Hill, there was the Citadella, some fortification from the 19th century, but I didn't check it out. At that point, I was exhausted from walking for hours. Afterwards, I went back to the Pest side towards the National Museum and found a little restaurant for dinner called Nelson's Café. Yes, it's silly, but I have to acknowledge that I legally bought my first girly drink, a pina colada, there. It's somewhat ironic, but I never really drank until I lived in Cairo, a conservative, Muslim country. Go figure.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Spring Break - Bucharest

I arrived in Bucharest in the evening. The train station was sketchy to begin with, but I was further stressed out because Drew was unable to withdraw money from the ATMs and his American Express card was virtually useless abroad. Then I freaked out a little bit. When I was buying tickets for our next leg of the journey, a man stood right next to me instead of waiting a couple of feet behind me in line. I felt very uncomfortable, so I asked him for some space. He said okay and backed up, but he inched up beside me again. I motioned for some more room, and he didn't budge enough so I barked, "Drew," (and yes, bark is definitely the most accurate word). I can laugh about it now because Drew was only a few yards away at the ATM, but he was out of sight, and I was nervous about handling money, tickets, and luggage in the presence of that creepy guy. On the bright side, a couple of women at the train station were particularly nice and helpful.

I stayed at East Hostel. It was a very nice place, but I'm glad that I was only there for one night. Perhaps the cold, rainy weather affected my impression of Bucharest, but there wasn't a whole lot to see there. The following day, I walked along Calea Victoriei and the Dambovita and took a tour of the Parliament Palace. The Parliament Palace was huge! In fact, it's the second largest building in the world after the Pentagon. I had wanted to see the Village Museum, but the weather put a wrench in those plans. By the end of day, I was damp and cold, so we took refuge at the McDonald's in the train station. No--I didn't buy anything, but I owe McDonald's for being a warm sanctuary in my time of need.

In comparison to Cairo, Bucharest was cleaner, prettier, and better-organized. People actually hosed down walls and sidewalks to get the dirt off. There were hundreds of stray dogs instead of cats, and there were plenty of trashcans too. There were also crosswalks and drivers stopped to let us cross the street. What a luxury! My favorite thing about Bucharest was the instant Nescafe machines. For just 1 Romanian lei, or $0.25, I bought a small cup of hot chocolate. Since it was a dreary day outside, I was really, really excited about them.

Spring Break - Day 1

On Friday morning I caught a cab to the airport with Drew, Phil, and Sheehan. Because it was so early and we took a metered cab, it only cost 35 pounds, which is a great deal! I was really happy that the cab ride went smoothly because I heard a story about a group of study abroad students who tried taking a taxi to the airport and missed their flight because the taxi driver didn't know how to get to the airport. Never trust a taxi driver in Egypt when he tells you that he knows how to get somewhere. The same goes for asking random people for directions--they'll completely make up directions rather than tell you that they don't know. It's a cultural difference.

Anyway, I had read that Egypt Air was mediocre at best, a nightmare at worst; however, I was pleasantly surprised. It was clearly a new plane, and the service was wonderful. We even got breakfast on the 2-hour flight from Cairo to Istanbul. Also, seeing the snow-capped mountains in Turkey through the window was amazing!

Getting from Ataturk Airport to Sirkeci Station was a breeze, and fortunately it had lockers so that we could store our luggage for the day. Like Cairo, there are juice bars, lots of stray cats, people delivering tea, and large legs of meat on rotisseries in Istanbul. However, the cats are well-fed, the tea comes in different kinds of glasses, and the meat is used to make doner instead of shawerma. I also noticed that there were fewer pharmacies in Istanbul and the waiters outside restaurants were much pushier than the ones in Cairo. From the afternoon until the evening, I walked through the Grand Bazaar twice, along the coast of the Sea of Marmara, and past the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, and Tokapi Palace.

That night I took a train, the Bosphorus Express, to Bucharest, Romania. I shared a 2nd class double sleeping compartment with Drew. It was in pretty poor condition. The bathrooms at the end of the car were disgusting, and the water was eventually cut off. I found a toenail in my bunk's sheets--enough said. As a side note, I vividly remember being unable to get out of the compartment, so I started banging on the door and shouting, "We can't open the door!" It turns out that we just had to turn the lock in the other direction. Anyway, the ride lasted almost 24 hours due to delays. On the bright side, the conductor was very kind and helpful, and he spoke English. The views of the Bulgarian countryside were breath-taking, and I felt somewhat guilty for not stopping there.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Introducing Baraka

Baraka, which means blessing in Arabic, my favorite place for fast food. It's a five minute walk from the dorm, and for 11 pounds, or $2, I can get a large shawerma. Shawerma is shaved meat cooked on a rotisserie served in laffa (taboon) bread or in a sub with tomatoes, pickles, parsley, tahini, and zhug, a spicy red sauce. I hate tomatoes with a passion, but I've learned to tolerate them if they're chopped finely.

There are two shawerma cooks: an old man and a young man. The old man makes small talk and he has stressed several times that he likes Obama. I like the young man better because he's friendly, but he doesn't try to chat with me. He knows that I like my shawerma spicy. The cooks always have bandages on their fingers. Every time that I eat at Baraka, I am acutely aware that a.) they don't wash their hands and b.) there aren't health codes regulating food preparation. Apparently it takes more than that to scare me away from food.

Telephone: 02 7368737

Baraka, 9 El Brazil Street, Zamalek

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


My trip to Alexandria went off without a hitch--almost. The night before we were due to leave we ate at Arabica, and in the morning, Drew discovered that he had left his bag there. His bag had a copy of his passport and his train ticket, and without a copy of his passport, he wouldn't have been able to stay at a hotel. I ended up taking the train in with just Mazin. Safa' met me at the train station and brought me back to her home. I felt nervous at first because the apartment buildings looked somewhat shabby from the outside, but the apartment was beautiful. I was so grateful that she offered me food right away because I was hungry. I met her husband and my professor's old friend, Paul (or Abdul Karim), and their young sons, Malek and Abed. Everyone was nice! It was sunny, high 70s, and breezy, so we went to Mamoura Beach. The boys rented and rode bikes while I walked with Safa' and Abdul Karim prayed. The gates to the beaches were closed because it's winter, so we hopped over a little gate and I dipped my toes in the Mediterranean! I collected some seashells too!

Afterwards we went back to their apartment and ate dinner. It was delicious! She made grape leaves stuffed with rice, artichokes stuffed with hamburger in a red sauce, khofta, pickled turnips, and rice. For dessert, I had strawberries with cinnamon. Later on that night I read parts of Matilda to Malek and went for a walk on the bridge. Abdul Karim said that when lower class Egyptians in the city married, they took photos there, and sure enough, we saw four newlywed couples.

In the morning I saw the Tombs of Mustafa Kamil. There are ruins from hundreds of years ago right around the corner from their apartment. The complex was built on top of an old Roman cemetary. Next Abdul Karim and I took a minibus to Issa, a bakery, and he bought me fateera for breakfast. It's a flexible, flaky crust with butter and sugar beaten into it. It was incredible! Then we went to a book fair and several really nice exhibits in the conference center across from the library. We took a tram to the train station, and then I came back to Cairo.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Mission Accomplished

This weekend I returned to Alexandria because an old friend of Professor Pontbriand, one of my history professors at UMass Dartmouth, lives there with his family, and he kindly invited me to stay with them.

My adventure actually began on Wednesday afternoon. I took the four o'clock bus back to Zamalek, and Drew and I tried to take a taxi to Ramses Station in order to buy tickets for Friday. (Drew and his roommate, Mazin, also planned to go to Alexandria.) The taxi driver must have misheard Drew because he took us to the Ramses-Hilton Hotel instead of Mahata Ramses, or Ramses Station. The taxi driver told us that the station was wara, or behind us, so we started walking in that direction.

Since guys are terrible about asking for directions, I had to cajole Drew into asking a guard or two where the station was. When I saw the 6th of October Bridge, I realized that they had sent us in the exact opposite direction. At this point I was more or less drowning in my stress and I felt my blood boiling. I hated Egypt with every fiber of my being. Egypt was the bane of my existence. Getting train tickets should not have been this complicated. We didn't take another taxi because I was afraid that the next taxi would take us to the hotel too. We ended up walking back over the Nile to Zamalek, my temporary home.

That "adventure" wasted two hours. Stress was still eating me alive, and I knew that it wouldn't go away until I had my train ticket, so I asked the receptionist to write down my destination, and I tried again. Keep in mind that it's dark out, the city is one big traffic jam, I'm alone, there is no effective 911, and I can't communicate with the taxi driver. The driver tried to get there by weaving in and out of narrow, sketchy side streets, and I had no idea where I was. I think that he wanted me to get out of the taxi and walk the next street over to the station, but I wasn't getting out of the taxi until I saw the train station with my own eyes.

Honestly, I was so nervous that I felt my pulse in my throat. Just as I decided to call my Arabic professor for help, I saw the train station, and I was flooded with relief. I got out of the taxi, walked into the station, and asked the guards at tourist information for help. Sure, they pointed me in the right direction, but actually purchasing a ticket turned out to be extremely difficult.

Before I came to Egypt, I learned that Egyptians don't form lines. I hadn't experienced that until I tried to buy a ticket. I waited behind some women that were getting their tickets, and people kept cutting in front of me. It was frustrating, but I was still working up the courage to approach the counter. Fortunately, an Egyptian guy who must have been watching and laughing helped me out. I was wary when he offered to help, but five minutes later, I had three tickets to Alexandria. Then the same guy approached me again and asked if I would like to be his friend. I felt incredibly awkward. Thankfully, my "just say no" training kicked in, so I was able to get out an "I'm sorry--no."

I typed "I made it back to Zamalek without any incidents," but this isn't entirely true. As I exited the station, men were pestering me left and right to take their taxi. Of course they were all trying to rip me off. Finally one man said he would take me back for 15 pounds, which is 5-10 pounds (or $2-3) too much, but at that point I didn't care. He started to climb into a car, and my immediate reaction was "Da mish taxi," or "That's not a taxi." It was just some random car. I more or less power walked away from him, found a black and white taxi that had just dropped off some people, asked the driver if he would take me to Zamalek, and hopped in. The taxi ride home was uneventful, Alhamdulillah, praise be to God.

Thinking about my adventure on Wednesday makes me feel jittery, but the reality is that I did it. Mission accomplished. +10 Self Confidence.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Art and Architecture of Cairo 3

You'll notice that I skipped "The Art and Architecture of Cairo 2." This is because I went on a fieldtrip without my camera. I may or may not blog about that trip. Yesterday I went to the City of the Dead, which is a cemetery inhabited by people. Please read about this area here.

Our first stop was the Sayyida, or Lady, Ruqayya Mashad. A mashad is a shrine or memorial to a member of the Prophet's family. This is a Shiite tradition, which is against Sunni Islam. Even though Egyptians are Sunnis, many of them visit the shrines. Next, we looked at the Sayyida 'Akita and al-Gafari Mashads.

Let's take a quick look at the domes of these mashads. Al-Gafari's dome (right) is simple; while, Sayyida 'Atika's dome (left) is more complex because it is ribbed on the outside. This tells us that the latter mashad was built later. Now let's compare them to Sayyida Ruqayya's dome, which is also ribbed. Directly below its dome, there is a section called the drum. In this case, it has windows with decorative stucco grills. This is a more complex development in architecture, and it tells us that both al-Gafari and Sayyida 'Atika were built before Sayyida Ruqayya. This is significant because out of these three mashads, the only one with an inscription including a date is Sayyida Ruqayya, which was built in 1133.

Friday, February 19, 2010

My Schedule

I'm taking four courses at the American University in Cairo, and classes are held four days a week: Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday. On those days I wake up at 6am to take the 7am bus from Zamalek to New Cairo. I don't enjoy waking up early, but I do enjoy the bus ride. It gives me a chance to listen to music while I watch Cairo wake up. Cairo is known as the "City of a Thousand Minarets." I'll have to post a picture to prove my point, but it should also be known as the "City of a Million Satellite Dishes."

Each day my classes start at 8:30am with Egyptian Colloquial Arabic. There are under ten people in the class. The professor's name is Galila, and she is a sweet, older woman. This is by far my easiest and most boring class. It's mostly about learning vocabulary. I feel bad for the students without any background in Modern Standard Arabic because they need to learn how to read, write, and pronounce the alphabet in such a short period of time.

My next class is Modern Standard Arabic at 10am. It's my favorite! It's an accelerated course, so class lasts from two to three hours and covers a year's worth of material in one semester. The professor is Suzanne, and she's incredible! Because there are only three people in the class, we meet in her office. She treated us to tea the first time we were there, and she also offers us snacks. In addition to all of this, she is a great teacher, and I feel like I'm learning so much from her. I'm being challenged.

On Sundays and Wednesdays, I have Art and Architecture of Cairo at 2pm. It's a decent class, but the Egyptian students ask countless irrelevant questions. Fortunately, the professor, Doctor Chahinda Karim, is extremely frank with everyone. I like her, and I'm learning from her, but it's just an okay class.

On Mondays and Thursdays, I have a history class at 2pm instead. It's the Middle East in the 20th Century. The professor is American, Doctor Jennifer Derr. She seems nice, approachable, and funny, but she speaks way too fast and her lectures aren't connected. This class is by far my most difficult.

I'm always done with classes at 3:15pm, so I catch the 4pm bus back most days. The ride that takes 45 minutes in the morning takes over an hour on the way back. Sometimes it takes an hour and a half. I generally close my eyes and attempt to sleep, but that's next to impossible on a bus in Cairo.

The Art and Architecture of Cairo 1

I'm taking an art history course for the first time. As I'm sure you gathered from the title, the course is about Cairo's art and architecture. Most weekends, which are Friday and Saturday here, the class goes to various mosques and monuments in order to see what we're studying.

Last weekend I went to the Nilometer (861) and the Mosque of Ibn Tulun (876-879). The Nilometer is a monument on Roda (Rawdah) Island, and it's the oldest original structure in Egypt after the Arab conquest. A pit was dug into the rock, and a column was placed in it. (For the record, I realize that I'm using the passive voice--sorry.) The pit had three openings to the Nile at different levels, and when the Nile flooded, water would rush into the pit. The column in the center showed how high the water was. If the water was too high, there would be devastating floods or too low--drought, and of course, there was a happy middle ground that signalled a prosperous harvest. The Nilometer was practical because taxes were based on the harvest, and thus, the flood.

I also visited the Mosque of Ibn Tulun last weekend. Like the Nilometer, Ibn Tulun was built when the Abbassids controlled Egypt. (Ibn means son, bint means girl or daughter.) Anyway, this is the oldest mosque in Egypt in its original form. The Mosque of Amr is the oldest, but it was demolished and rebuilt several times. Ibn Tulun is a massive mosque! These are its noteworthy features.
  • It is an imitation of the Great Mosque of Samarra (modern-day Iraq)
  • It has a ziyada, a corridor, around it on three sides
  • Its cresting, upper decoration on the walls, resembles paper dolls
  • The stone minaret has its staircase outside.
  • Its pillars are engaged; in other words, the pillars' corners are rounded.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Crossing the Street

I believe that I've already mentioned the difficulty and thrill of crossing street in Cairo. When we, the study abroad students, went to Alexandria, we assumed that the same rules applied. After we had checked into our hotel, we wanted to walk along the Mediterranean Sea, which was on the other side of the highway. We had to cross eight lanes of traffic, four at a time, while cars flew by at 60km/hr. No big deal--we did it.
When we wanted to get back to the hotel, we expected to do the same thing even though traffic was heavier. While waiting for an opportunity to dash across the street, an Egyptian man made it clear that we shouldn't cross. He gestured down the sidewalk, and I thought that he wanted us to cross further down. As it turns out, there is a tunnel under the highway so that you don't have to run across it. What a luxury!


I went to Alexandria over the weekend on an AUC-sponsored trip. We saw the sites: Qaitbay, the Catacombs, the Roman Amphitheatre, and the Library of Alexandria. Qaitbay is a citadel on the Mediterranean Sea, and it is situated where the Lighthouse of Alexandria used to be. The views of the sea from the fortress were incredible. The Catacombs and the Roman Amphitheatre were cool. It's amazing how entire structures are swallowed by the earth over time. I wonder what is underneath some parts of Cairo. The library was huge! At first I thought that we were going to visit the original library. It turns out that it was destroyed hundreds of years ago. The library that I saw had been built in 2002, and it was awesome!

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Laundry - Public Enemey Number One

Several days ago I did laundry--sort of. I decided to wash jeans and my fleece. I turned the dial to cotton and selected the number of spins and water temperature. Next I added the laundry detergent and pressed start. Simple, right?

My first problem was the water. It wouldn't go into the machine. Fortunately, a member of the housekeeping staff showed me how to open the lever attached to the pipe on the wall. Problem solved. An hour and a half later, my clothes had been cleaned. At that point, I realized that the temperatures on the washer were in degrees Celsius. I had just washed my jeans in 100-degree water, so I hung them up in my room to dry so that they wouldn't shrink.

Then I put in a load of darks and remembered to use cold water. I selected a different spin setting just out of curiosity. Also, I used the quick wash option so that it would take half an hour instead of an hour and a half. While the washer cleaned my clothes, I went to the first floor to check out the dryer. I opened it, and three inches of water were in the bottom. Fail. I had to hang all of my darks around my room too, but it wasn't warm enough to actually dry them. I improvised and used my heater.

Saturday, January 30, 2010


On Friday I got up close and personal with the pyramids. Before we got off of the bus, I saw a man behaving very strangely. It wasn't until the bus got closer that I realized he was having a seizure. He appeared to be an Egyptian. It was so difficult to watch. I was frustrated because the police didn't do anything. Even his friends seemed unable to do anything for him. I hope that he survived.

On a happier note, I went inside one of the pyramids; granted, the inside was a bit of a let-down. I was expecting to see some artifacts, but we ended up in an empty chamber. There was a sarcophagus, but I imagine that it was a replica. Either way, I still went inside of a pyramid, and most people can't say that.

The pyramids are so much taller than I expected, and the blocks of limestone that the pyramids are made from are absolutely huge. Surprisingly, being at the pyramids didn't feel surreal. I don't recall being blown away by the experience. I think that being in Egypt feels so normal and natural. Of course I'm meant to be in Egypt at this point in my life, so of course I'm at the pyramids. Perhaps this is a part of culture shock? Random comment, but there were no climbing signs on the pyramids, and people were climbing them up to a certain point. I didn't get the chance because our tour guide moved too quickly. Perhaps I'll return.

Before enterting the pyramid, a vendor greeted me and another student, Drew. The vendor gave him souvenirs that he claimed were for free, and he also gave me a small blue scarab bead. The vendor assumed that I was the other student's girlfriend, which was amusing. He also called me an American rose, not realizing that I am one! Caitlin Rose.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Bedouin Night aka Football Dance Party

For the record, Bedouins are former nomads that live in the desert, and there are a bunch of different tribes. Last night was Bedouin Night, and it was also the night that Egypt and Algeria faced off in a football match. This game was a huge deal. The Algerian Embassy is right down the street, so I'm really glad that Egypt won. It plays Ghana on Sunday.

We watched the entire game in a large, open tent with pillows and rugs on the ground. There were hot coals, shisha, food, and drink. In front of everyone was a projector and a screen. The Egyptians love football. Shanna mentioned that she enjoys watching them watch the game. I agree. When Egypt scored, everyone got up and cheered. Some people danced!

Egypt ended up winning 4-0. When the game ended, the Egyptians broke into dance. It was one of the most intense and beautiful expressions of joy that I have ever witnessed. The Americans eventually took over the dance party, complete with a couple camels and a horse. After the game people were honking their horns and flying flags. Football seems to be closer to everyone's heart than politics, money, etc.

Afterwards we watched another performance that was similar to the one on the cruise. The whirling dervish was much better!

Lost in Zamalek

On Thursday morning I went to campus to find my classes. It sounds simpler than it actually was, but I eventually figured it out. Afterwards, I took a bus downtown with Phil and Drew. We walked--actually, I walked and they strolled through the streets. While we were downtown, I tried some freshly squeezed orange juice, and it was delicious! We eventually crossed a bridge back to Zamalek, and it turned out that we were on the southern-most end of the island.

After a few more hours, it began to get dark, and we ended up taking a taxi back to the dormitory. Aisha and Dalia, two Egyptian students, told us that it should only cost us five pounds to go from the Cairo Opera House to the dormitory. I handed the driver five pounds, and he got all angry. He got out of the cab and everything. We eventually gave him more money to shut him up, but we got ripped off. I won't be taking another taxi any time soon. I realize that we still only paid three dollars for a fifteen-minute ride, but the idea behind it bothers me. I don't want to be significantly overcharged because I'm a foreigner.

Cruising the Nile

On Wednesday night, I was on a Nile cruise. Our boat was called the Memphis. Honestly, the cruise was mediocre, if that. The entertainment wasn't fantastic; although, the whirling dervish was certainly cool. I thought that the belly dancer was past her prime. The biggest killer for me was the food. It was cold and not tasty. The most annoying part is that drinks aren't served until after you're eating, and they charged for water! I would not recommend this trip to anyone.

Exploring Downtown Cairo

On Wednesday morning I ventured over the 26th of July Bridge with Drew, another student, and we explored the downtown area north of Tahrir Square. When I was with Elena the day before, I didn't want to walk into this area because it seemed poorer and that made me feel uneasy. It's somewhat sexist, but I felt more at ease walking with a guy.

My initial fears were completely unfounded. I walked through somewhat sketchy areas, but no one made any passes at me. Sure, people tried to get our attention, but no one hassled us. We walked through a bazaar of car parts and then an open-air market with rack after rack of clothing. I would like to go back there to do some shopping. Oh! We successfully bought koushary for three pounds each!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Horseback Riding After Dark

Last night I went horseback riding under the stars. At first I felt bad because some of the horses, including mine, were a bit on the skinny side. I was annoyed because a man held onto my horse's reins instead of letting me control the horse. Finally another Egyptian man that spoke some English was able to translate for me. My horse went from the back of the group to the front with one other student, Ryan. He pointed out Orion's Belt.

The pyramids were so far away. I could see them, but I was disappointed. I thought that we were going to be right next to them instead of miles away. I quickly learned that my horse responded to the verbal commands of the Egyptian men. My horse took off galloping! It was such an adrenaline rush. I eventually got him under control, but I really wasn't ready for that. I joined the first group, and left my group behind in the dust. My horse galloped some more, and riding was a thrill, but at the same time, I was sad about the state of the horses and disgusted by the trash on the ground.

A Trip to Campus and Downtown

On Tuesday I returned to campus in order to get an email account, apply for a residence visa, and buy a bus pass. The bus ride was significantly shorter. We left at 9:30am, and it only took us about 45 minutes to arrive.

After I ran around campus getting things done, I took a bus to Tahrir Square with Elena. We neandered around and bought some shawerma. We also practiced our skills at crossing the street, and I think that this should become an Olympic sport. Phil compared crossing the street to Frogger, and honestly, I feel like a champ every time I make it to the other side of the street in one piece. I've learned that you just have to be confident. When you decide you're going to cross, you go without looking back.

I've taken to walking in the streets. The Egyptians do it, and it just feels natural. The sidewalks are littered with debris, potholes, and animal feces. I stepped in cat shit a couple of days ago. That was the turning point for me.

Back to yesterday, Elena and I actually walked from Tahrir Square, or downtown, back to Zamalek, but not before we enjoyed some shawerma at a place named Canary. We also walked along the Nile. We got lost a couple of times, but we managed. I asked a security guard about al jaami'a amreekeyya, and Elena mentioned Mohamed Thakeb Street, so between the two of us, we communicated where we needed to go.

The food at the dormitory's cafeteria is overpriced, bland, and sometimes cold. I won't eat there anymore. I went to the Metro Market and bought some bread and water, and I also go some bananas from a vendor. I paid 5 pounds per kilo. I'm not sure if that was too much, but I bought half a kilo. I actually went to the Metro Market alone last night, and while I felt somewhat uneasy because I hadn't walked around alone at night, I didn't feel unsafe at all.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Old Cairo

Yesterday I went on a trip to Old Cairo, or Coptic Cairo. The tour guide had a good sense of humor. First, we went to the Hanging Church. It's one of the oldest churches in Egypt, and it was built over part of the Babylon Fortress. Next we went to the Church of Saint George, and then we visited the Ben Ezra Synagogue. Photos weren't allowed, but some students took them anyway. One of our group leaders, Aisha, got into an argument with the man while we made ourselves scarce. He eventually apologized, but we all felt somewhat awkward. I don't understand why the students didn't just obey the signs in the first place.

I went into a mosque for the first time. The Mosque of Amr was the first one in Africa, but like all of the other religious buildings, it had been rebuilt or expanded several times. I was glad that I had a jacket with a hood to cover my head. Some girls ended up wearing what looked like green Harry Potter robes or green KKK costumes. I really need to invest in a scarf or some sort of wrap to cover my head because I'm not sure how often they wash the green rent-a-cloths.

The tourguide spent awhile going over polygamy in Islam. Honestly, that was a waste of time because I don't think that anyone cares. It's just an alternative lifestyle, and I can see how it benefitted men and women in the past. I would be okay with it if women were free to have four husbands.

Honestly, I didn't care for the buildings. Sure, they're old, but only small pieces of them. Also, whoever attempted to restore the religious buildings had no idea what they were doing. They added modern things to the buildings and made it so obvious. It really ruined it for me because nothing felt historical.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Into the Desert

Yesterday I went to the campus, and it is really in the middle of the desert. I took the 12:30pm bus, which wasn't a good idea because it was rush hour. It took us an hour and a half to get to the campus. When you got out of the city, the amount of dust in the air was uncomfortable. You could feel it in your nose and throat when you breathed. There is so much construction going on outside the new campus, but it looks like some buildings have been left half-finished. The good thing about bus rides is meeting people.

I got my ID card, some cash, and lunch, but that was about it. The orientation people decided to close up a couple hours early, so I didn't accomplish too much. I'm going back tomorrow morning on the 9:30am bus to take care of a few things. Anyway, the campus is beautiful. Even though only 5,000 students attend it, it's huge! There are a lot of Western food places on campus, but we ate at a pseudo-Egyptian food place. I ate koushary and falafel. It was good, but koushary is a heavy meal.

The bus ride back took another hour and a half, but I didn't mind too much. The bus was larger, so I could see better. Cairo is so interesting. It's dominant colors are brown and grey. It's dirty and polluted and dotted with bright laundry. There are piles of rubble all over the place, but even the shabbiest buildings appear to have air conditioners. It's beautiful in its own sort of way.

Khan El Khalili

We arrived at the dormitory around 7:00pm, an hour before a trip to Khan El Khalili, a famous bazaar, or souk. I basically tossed my suitcase into my room and joined the group of people going on the trip.

You really can smell the spices! I loved all of the brightly colored women's clothing and shiny jewelry and trinkets. Beyond that, I didn't really like it there. There was trash all over the ground. The vendors were extremely pushy, except for the women. If I ever go back, I will try to only buy from women. The Egyptian men try to get your attention by hissing; saying psst; or calling you Julia Roberts, Shakira, or Catherine Zeta Jones. My friend, Chelsea, was asked if she would like an Egyptian husband! It's funny at first, but it does get annoying fast. The vendors are extremely pushy. They need some serious customer service training.

I felt like I was prepared. I avoided making eye contact with the men and ignored them. Eye contact and smiling can be flirty, I think. Also, the key is to not buy anything until you know what something should cost. Despite its drawbacks, I would like to return when I'm more confident and know what I want to buy.

That's a Wrap

Before I had a boarding pass with a seat on it, I was bargaining with myself. I would have sat next to two screaming babies without complaining if it guaranteed me a seat. Guess who I ended up sitting with. That's right--baby Omar. I was so pleased to actually be on the plane that I helped entertain him so that he wouldn't cry. I swear that I'm not lying! I tickled his toes, smiled at him, and talked to him.

After an eleven-hour flight, the plane landed in Cairo. I found my luggage and the driver, and then I used the ATM. There were about fifteen AUC students on the plane, and it took at least an hour to wait for everyone to get their visas. I got mine ahead of time, and it made my life easier. Another student, Phil, actually got his student residence visa beforehand, and I would highly recommend this because it is less expensive and more convenient.

I was impressed that we all fit into a minibus with our luggage. Two random men helped the driver load the luggage, and afterwards they asked for baksheesh, or a tip. They were persistent, and I think that it made all of us feel awkard. I gave one of them a dollar, and another student gave the other one some Egyptian pounds.

The ride to the Zamalek dormitory took at least another hour. The traffic is really bad in Cairo, but the driving isn't as crazy as I thought that it would be. Yes, drivers honk a lot to communicate and they ignore the lines, but there seem to be some unwritten driving guidelines that most drivers follow.

Cairo-Bound Take Two

My second attempt to get to Cairo almost failed too. I made it from Boston to JFK, but I wasn't sure if I actually had a seat on the flight to Cairo. I only had a seat request. I was nervous because I heard that the Delta staff was offering to compensate people if they gave up their seats.

I eventually found out that I was guaranteed a seat because I was confirmed passenger, but when I handed one of the men at the gate my seat request, he told me that it wasn't valid because my paper ticket's AirFrance stamp was extremely faint. If the other man at the gate hadn't said that it was fine, I would have lost my sanity.

Cairo-Bound Take One

At first it felt like I had never left home--because I hadn't. I had originally intended to fly to Cairo via Paris on the 21st, but the flight was canceled because the plane's PA system didn't work. When AirFrance made the announcement, I scrambled to procure another seat, find my luggage, and get home from the airport. Thank goodness my parents helped me in the wee hours of the morning.

Believe it or not, sitting in Logan Airport for nine hours wasn't that bad. I sat near several Frenchmen, and contrary to popular belief, they were friendly and humorous. After the AirFrance staff announced that they would update us in another hour, one Frenchman exclaimed, "Vive la France!" Then he swore and asked me to please excuse his French. I also met a seasoned traveler from Portugal and a professor at Boston University who was traveling to the American University in Cairo too.